This year, I saw a grand total of 12 new movies, which was about 7 more than usual. I'm still trying to catch up on this year's Oscar bait, but to bring in 2014: a ranking of the very random smattering of movies I saw!
12. Man of Steel
Not only did this movie make no earthly sense, it made no use of the talents of one of my favorite actresses: Amy Adams. With Christopher Nolan as a producer and Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, and Michael Shannon in supporting roles, this should have been tolerable at the least. Instead, even the scenes of things getting blown up were kind of boring.
11. Now You See Me
Yes, it was only sightly more logical than Man of Steel. But it had a good cast and every main character at least cracked a smile.
10. Despicable Me 2
I can tell you it was cute, but I honestly don't remember much else.
9. Monster's University
Even though Pixar hasn't had a truly great movie since Toy Story 3, I had pretty high hopes for Monster's University. (Especially after seeing this awesome university website.) The hijinks were fun, and I liked that it actually showed a character failing. Still, it didn't have the perfectly heartwarming moments that defined the first decade of Pixar films.
It's an inspirational sports movie. It's pretty well done, but it rigidly adheres to a well-trod formula. This is particularly frustrating when you consider Robinson's own bravery as a trailblazer. The film hints at his internal turmoil, but I would have loved to see more of Robinson's internal battles.
7. The Heat
I love Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, and they definitely succeeded at making me laugh. However, a couple weeks after seeing it, I was hard pressed to describe the plot or more than 5 of the big gags.
6. Hobbit 2: Hobbit Harder
Yes, I know that's not the real title, but I happen to prefer the one my brother and I made up. I haven't seen the first Hobbit movie, although I did read the book a couple times. This deviates quite a bit from Tolkien's original narrative, but is still fairly enjoyable and moves along nicely. Unfortunately, every 20 minutes I would remember how much better The Lord of the Rings movies were.
5. This is the End
Unlike many of the movies on this list, this actually benefits from low expectations. I don't mind raunch if it's actually funny, so movies like this are usually touch-and-go for me. Fortunately, almost all the jokes hit their marks. Was it offensive? Maybe, but I was laughing so hard I didn't really care. Added bonus: Seeing Seth Rogan and James Franco together inspired me to finally watch Freaks and Geeks!
If you haven't seen this movie, don't. I mean this as a critique and a criticism: It's out of theaters, so it's pretty much impossible to appreciate its sheer beauty on an 11-inch laptop screen. This and Avatar are the only movies I've seen where the 3D isn't a gimmick and actually works. Bullock and Clooney give great performances, which is particularly incredible given that Sandra Bullock spent much of filming in a tiny box so the background could be green-screened in. However, the dialogue isn't all that great and sometimes detracts from the beautiful visuals.
3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
This was a huge improvement, and I'm saying this as someone who liked the first movie. Although Jennifer Lawrence was occasionally a little wooden in the first movie, she nails Katniss's prickly charm here. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent (minus Gale and Peeta Bread.) Plus, this was my first midnight movie showing!
The trailer had me worried: I was expecting a shlocky kid mess with Josh Gad's snowman taking over the whole movie. However, I'd forgotten where he'd gotten his big break: theater. Almost the entire main cast is Broadway vets, which makes a pretty decent song list even better. Some of the computer animated scenes were beautiful enough for me to temporarily forget my desire for Disney to bring back its classic 2D animation. There were some nice twists on the "falling in love in a day" trope, and even some Arrested Development references!
1. American Hustle
I'm sure I'm still missing a few plot points from this movie, but it was a lot of fun. It's perfectly cast, and Russell gets incredible performances from his actors. Amy Adams is completely removed from Man of Steel, and a recent rewatch of He's Just Not That Into You really made me appreciate Bradley Cooper's growth as an actor. Yes, it could be a little deeper, but its mapcap energy underlies this point: Where's the fun in a philosophical con?